In 1526, gunsmith Maestro Batolomeo Beretta received 296 ducats for 185 arquebus barrels—in bulk—and the Beretta company was born. Two hundred and ninety-six ducats seems like price gouging as I have never paid over 199 ducats for my arquebus barrels in bulk. Officially the date is set in the year 1680 making this the oldest firearms manufacturer in continuous operation owned by the same family.
The Beretta factory grew from an area that has seen weapons designs since the Roman era. Julius Caesar controlled the area before crossing the Rubicon. The area has witnessed Hannibal’s elephants, the Huns, untold barbarians, and over time standing armies from Napoleon to even the United States Army. It exudes history and is a fitting location for one of my favorite manufacturers.
Since 1526, the company has been in the Maestro’s direct descendents hands. Two notable examples are Pietro and his son Giuseppe. From 1791 to 1853, Pietro Beretta was known for going throughout the Italian peninsula promoting the company. His son Giuseppe (1840-1903) started pushing the company to other countries outside of the boot. Only once was Beretta not passed from a father to a son—this was due to a childless glitch in family history. It remained in the Beretta name when an adopted child was named Beretta.
Beretta Goes to War
During the war to end all wars, 1914 to 1918, the Beretta firm was commissioned to develop weapons for the Italian army as well as rest of the Allies—Italy was on the good side for that one. The weapon that went to war was the Beretta Model of 1915—the M15. In looking at the pistol you can see the makings of later famous pistols made by this company. This gun is a hammerless semi-auto pistol chambered in 7.65mm, roughly .32 caliber—a popular caliber of that age.
This would be the only real addition to the first big Euro shootout. Beretta would not make a long gun showing for the first event but after halftime, they would bring both long guns, automatic rifle and a vastly upgraded pistol to the next European get-together. Just after the First World War they introduced their first submachine gun—the Model of 1918 and later the 1930 Model 18/30 upgrade. Italian soldiers in the Second World War would utilize the M 18/30. The newer Model of 1938 would also join Italian troops in Africa and the home front.
I am a huge fan of Beretta. However, during the reign of the megalomaniac, Benito Mussolini, I am not sure the best was being produced. Like any tyrant, they seem to believe they know what’s best for all. For the sake of just staying alive, many creative minds pull back and let those tyrants run the show. I cannot be sure this was the case in Italy during World War II. However, I can say they were without a doubt one of the most poorly equipped modern armies of that era. IL Duce was one of the worst and undeniably at the bottom when it came to ingenuity.
Other than the M38, the Model 34 pistol was the best innovation brought to the event. It was apparent that creativity was down during the Duce’s reign. The M34 is not much but a slight upgrade from the M15. I do not want to sell it short as some believe it is a good weapon. Chambered in 9mm Short or .380—this is my concern. Any gun meant for war or as a duty weapon for police officers chambered in that caliber raises my eyebrows. I own .380 caliber weapons and they make great pocket pistols, but that is it.
One very interesting event taking place during this period was the factory moving underground into large catacombs built in a nearby mountain. Considering the saturation bombing of the Italian peninsula, that move may be the reason Beretta did not cease to exist before September 8, 1943 when Italy surrendered to the Allies. When Italy and Beretta crawled out from under the rubble of World War II and fascism, they kept these catacombs and still, allegedly, use them to this day for testing.
Moving Beyond the Boot
Beretta would clean up from the debacles of European conflict that defined the first half of the 20th century. Two brothers, Giuseppe and Carlo, would bring new ideas that would set the company’s course for the remainder of the century and into the next.
Giuseppe brought a little-used novelty in the industry to Beretta. That little contribution, I say facetiously, was a computer. He introduced computer-aided machines to the manufacturing sector. I wonder how that worked out for them? Carlo looked beyond the boot of Italy toward the new world. He brought Beretta to Brazil in the early 1970s. While this Brazil manufacturing plant did not remain in Beretta hands, their feet landed in Greece and France. Later they would establish manufacturing and retail sales in the United States. Elite stores are located in New York and Dallas. I went to the store in Dallas and it was awesome.
Beretta crawled from the cave and became a true international company. However, bigger landmarks were coming as the 20th century wound down. Beretta would again go to war, but far from its own shores. In a war that no one could have imagined, as a new enemy began to crawl from its hole.
Return next week for the conclusion of Beretta’s story.